California Wildfire Death Toll Rises To 44; Arizona Firefighters Assisting Efforts

[Photo by Heber-Overgaard Fire Department]

By Staff

LOS ANGELES – Arizona officials are sending dozens of fire engines to California to help fight devastating wildfires, one of which has raged for a week.

Arizona officials have sent 42 engines and 144 firefighters from across the state to help battle the blazes, back-fill for local fire departments and help with supplies, according to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Five of those firefighters are from Glendale.

“Any time that there’s a tragedy anywhere, whether it’s in our own state or another state, we want to lend resources if we have a way to help,” said Ashley Losch, public information officer for the Glendale Fire Department. “So we’re going to send as many people as we possibly can and as many resources as we can to help stop the fires.”

Tiffany Davila, public information officer for Forestry and Fire Management, said the Arizona crews will have a variety of duties in California.

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“Filling in, running those daily 911 calls. Some are just staged waiting on possible new fire starts and others will be assigned to other fires throughout the state,” Davila said.

Lending a hand is what neighbors do, she said.

“It goes both way. They help us during our fire season and we’ll go help out California or Nevada. Wherever we’re needed to help them get those extra boots on the ground.”

The need is great in parched California, which has not received substantial rainfall in weeks. Amplifying the danger are the seasonal Santa Ana winds, which blow down the coastal mountainsides toward the Pacific Ocean, fanning flames and keeping moist ocean breezes away.

The Camp Fire, which began Nov. 8 and all but obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise, has killed at least 42 people and is the most devastating fire in state history, according to the Associated Press. More than 5,000 firefighters battling the blaze made gains overnight, slowing the flames’ advance toward Oroville, the AP said.

The fire, which has charred 195 square miles and destroyed more than 6,400 homes, was reported 30 percent contained about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the AP reported.

In Paradise, a retirement community of about 27,000 people, cadaver dogs and forensics teams are starting the difficult work of identifying remains.

Meanwhile, state investigators trying to establish the cause of the inferno appeared to be zeroing in on Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power lines. A landowner near where the blaze began said PG&E notified her the day before the blaze that crews needed to come onto her property because transmission wires were sparking. Investigators have since declared the area a crime scene. PG&E had no comment on the landowner’s account but acknowledged last week that it was having problems with its transmission lines in the area just before the fire erupted.

Wildfires also are burning in Southern California, destroying hundreds of homes, ravaging national lands and park spaces, killing at least two people and injuring several more.

Here’s the latest on the fires burning in Southern California on Tuesday.

Woolsey Fire

Thousands of firefighters remained on the line Tuesday, working to contain the Woolsey Fire near the coastal enclave of Malibu, which has destroyed 435 buildings and burned about 146 square miles, AP reported. The fire was 35 percent contained, with full containment expected Thursday.

The fire broke out Thursday afternoon north of Bell Canyon and rapidly moved south through the Santa Monica Mountains, jumping the 101 Freeway and tearing through hillside communities before burning down to the Pacific Ocean.

Two people were found dead Friday afternoon on the winding Mulholland Highway, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Investigators believe the driver may have become disoriented while trying to escape the area, but the investigation is ongoing.


– Map published by Google Crisis Response

On Monday night, fire officials said the Woolsey Fire had scorched more than 80 percent of the federal lands in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

National Park Service officials responded to a flood of inquiries about the condition of wildlife in the mountains, saying the home range of four local bobcats have been completely destroyed. They added that some of the mountain lions biologists are tracking have not yet been accounted for, but said that wasn’t out of the ordinary given how the cougars are monitored.

President Donald Trump said he had approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which would make available federal funds to assist fire-ravaged California.

“Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on,” Trump tweeted Monday. “I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Southern California Edison voluntarily reported an equipment outage at its Chatsworth substation near where the fire began. The outage came just two minutes before the Woolsey Fire was first reported, but Edison stressed that there has so far been no indication from public officials that utility equipment could have been responsible for sparking the fire.

SoCal Edison reported the outage to the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday and said it will cooperate with investigators.

Peak and Lynn fires

Two new fires broke out Monday, with one burning right off the 118 Freeway in the Santa Susana Pass and spreading south before firefighters stopped forward progress in the afternoon. That blaze, dubbed the Peak Fire, scorched about 186 acres, but was fully contained by 4:30 p.m.

The 118 Freeway was shut down in both directions between Simi Valley and Chatsworth but was fully reopened about 6 p.m.

A second fire in Thousand Oaks, the Lynn Fire, burned about 5 acres but was quickly contained.

Hill Fire

Firefighters continue to make good progress on the Hill Fire, which was holding at 4,531 acres and is now 90 percent contained, according to the latest update from Cal Fire.

Two structures have been destroyed and no deaths or injuries have been reported. About 40 firefighters remain on the fire line.

The only remaining evacuation order is for Point Mugu Naval Base, according to Cal Fire.

How to make a donation:

A number of organizations are helping wildfire victims.

  • The Red Cross, perhaps the most well-known, is providing both shelter and emotional support for evacuees. You can visit RedCross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make an automatic $10 donation.
  • The United Way of Greater Los Angeles is accepting donations to its Disaster Relief Fundto help those affected by the Southern California fires. They’re partnering with United Way of Ventura County.
  • The Salvation Army Ventura Corps wildfire relief fund is also accepting donations to go toward California wildfire relief.
  • The California Fire Foundation is a nonprofit that is distributing emergency funds to fire victims through its SAVE program. That includes firefighters distributing prepaid credit cards to help victims in the immediate aftermath of the fire.
  • Google is helping people make a donation. Donations through Google will be directed through the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
  • The Entertainment Industry Foundation is raising money through its Fire Relief Fundto help those affected. The organizations that will benefit, but last year they gave to the L.A. Fire Department, L.A. Kitchen, and the Humane Society of Ventura County.
  • Facebook also has a Crisis Response page for the Woolsey Fire, which includes fundraising through GlobalGiving to help those affected by the fire.

How to donate to help animals:

  • The Humane Society of Ventura County is accepting animals evacuating from the Hill and Woolsey fires, and they’re also looking for support. You can donate to the organization here or purchase needed items through their Amazon Wish List here.
  • The Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation is providing animals shelter from the Woolsey and Hill fires. They’re accepting donations through the Noah’s Legacy Fund.
  • The Pasadena Humane Society said it took in 15 dogs, 12 cats, five rabbits, four hamsters and two mice over the course of the weekend. It is accepting donations, up to $3,000 of which will be matched through a gift from the Elizabeth M. Falk Foundation.

Other actions you can take:

  • Adopt a pet. The L.A. County Department of Animal Care and Control is asking people to go to their nearest animal care center and adopt during this emergency. They note that their Agoura Animal Care Center was evacuated Friday morning, but their other centers remain open.
  • Help your neighborhood plan for a future disaster. L.A. County has a five-step Neighborhood Action Kit to help you and your neighbors make a plan. They note that, in major disasters, 70 percent of victims are rescued by their neighbors rather than professional responders.
  • Apply to volunteer with the Humane Society of Ventura County, though they are currently only accepting trained volunteers to help with evacuated animals.
  • Apply to become a Red Cross volunteer.

Cronkite News reporter Edgardo Lozoya and KPCC reporters Melissa LeuBrian FrankRyan FonsecaMike RoeSharon McNaryMegan GarveyKristen Muller and Priska Neelycontributed to this story.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite NewsArizona PBSKJZZKPCCRocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.